02 July 2018

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

Series: N/A
# of Pages: 417
Publication: May 5th, 2015
Source: Library Audiobook
Genre: Contemporary
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Peyton, Sydney's charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion's share of their parents' attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton's increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident? Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time. The uber-popular Sarah Dessen explores her signature themes of family, self-discovery, and change in her twelfth novel, sure to delight her legions of fans.

While this isn’t the first time that I’ve read a Sarah Dessen book, this one felt strikingly different than the ones that I’ve read from her before. The characters and the plot felt so real and believable that I felt as though I could relate to each one of them and their stories. Sarah Dessen’s novel is so much more than a story about a girl who is dealing with the ramifications of her brother’s poor decisions. It’s about hope, friendship, courage, and finding the strength to move on.

One of the most endearing aspects of Saint Anything was development of the characters. While I listened to this on audiobook, I was still given the opportunity to become fully immersed in the change and growth of the main characters. At the beginning of the novel Sydney is at the constant mercy of her brother’s actions. His poor decisions in both friends and actions heavily determines how she can live the rest of her life. Through the transferring of schools, she has the opportunity to meet and build relationships with the Chathams. Their friendship is the main source of Sydney’s ability to move on from the chaos of her own home and find strength and confidence in herself. In doing this she prevents herself from constantly living in the shadows of her brother. One thing that I did not enjoy in reference to the characters was how Sydney’s parents did not engage with her enough to understand her strong dislike of another character (I’ll refrain from going into too many details because of spoilers). There were signs of inappropriate behavior in several situations; yet, her parents become so preoccupied with her brother and their disapproval of her new friends that they missed what was most important. It took a near tragic event for her parents to even realize what damage could have been caused. I’m not sure if Dessen meant this as a cautionary tale or if it was simply meant to be the reflection of bad parenting; nevertheless, I did not enjoy them and I was truly upset that they made things more complicated for the main character. One thing that I really did enjoy was the relationship between Sydney and the Chathams. I feel like this family ultimately become her substitute family and excepted her with no boundaries or limitations. It is in this that she truly is able to discover herself and find strength in such a difficult situation.

In reading this book I noticed that while the plot is not breathtaking and does not immediately grab the reader’s attention, it is brilliantly written in a way that tackles issue such as incarceration. Most people do not realize nor understand that incarceration has negative impacts on the convicted individual as well as friends and families. What is brilliant about this book is that it dissects family dynamics once one child of the family is incarcerated. In this book we see how much Sydney is neglected as a result of her parents attempting not to neglect her brother Peyton. It not only breaks the reader’s heart, but it is written in a way that is realistic, a way in which one can imagine a teenager that is currently dealing with this situation.  

Overall this book was an interesting read. I did not give it a 5 star rating because I found parts of the book slow or unnecessary to the overall plot and story. The atmosphere of the book was, at times, heartbreaking and difficult to read (or listen to in my case ); nevertheless, Dessen kept me fully engaged as a reader and I could not help but to root for and cheer Sydney on in every step of her journey whether she was making mistakes or learning how to build her confidence. This book is definitely unlike some of Sarah Dessen’s other books so I would recommend checking this one out.


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